Leaders declare a “local state of disaster” to increase preventative measures ahead of Spring Festival Season.
In response to the increasing concerns of COVID-19 across the nation, Austin-Travis County leaders have declared a “local state of disaster” to more proactively increase preventative measures and require mitigation plans for events in the region.
The declaration was made ahead of this month’s Spring Festival season following recommendations from interim local health authority Dr. Mark Escott, who acted on advice from an independent panel of experts. The Spring Festival season runs from next Friday, March 13, through March 22.
“Over the past several days a group of experts has been reviewing the Spring Festival season and keeping track of an evolving situation across the U.S. and our State in relation to COVID-19,” said Dr. Escott. “While there is no clear guidance on what local jurisdictions should do under these circumstances, our local expert advisory panel took a look at the risk factors and identified a number of concerns.”
Key factors considered include:
- The likelihood for extended close personal contact
- Crowd density
- A significant number of travelers from areas currently experiencing person-to-person spread of COVID-19 domestically and internationally
- A high number of guests coming from unknown locations
- The lack of a vaccine and limited treatment options to manage cases.
Events with 2,500 or more people are prohibited unless organizers are able to assure Austin Public Health that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place. Each event will be evaluated case-by-case.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said: “We have declared a local disaster and associated with that have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest for this year.”
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said: “This is a data and health-driven decision that will enable us to be prepared in any event.”
No positive test results for COVID-19 have been received by Austin Public Health at this time. However, Austin-Travis County is prepared for the possibility of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Proactive preparedness measures have been undertaken by APH, in coordination with local, state and federal partners.
Despite the disaster declaration, the health authority still anticipates significant numbers of visitors to the Austin-Travis County area over the Spring Festival season. The planning and coordination efforts therefore continue.
Dr. Escott said: “We are focused on mitigation strategies to protect the community. These may involve modifications to public gatherings, including places of worship practices or school attendance. We will also be working closely with local hospitals and the business community to increase the availability of hand washing stations, hand sanitizers, messaging and posters to remind people of the importance of personal hygiene.”
People can help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses, including influenza and COVID-19, by following these measures:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue to cover it, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
If people feel unwell they should contact their primary care provider before going to a clinic, urgent care or emergency department, to prevent any potential spread.
All businesses and restaurants are urged to display information to encourage people to follow good hygiene practices to keep the community safe. Flyers in English and Spanish can be downloaded at www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19. Check this page for updates.